Farmers’ Market: Asparagus, Cookbooks, and Gratuitous Opera

Today’s farmers’ market was awesome – it had all my favourite stall-holders, all my favourite foods, all my favourite everything.  And I could only stay for about ten minutes.

Let me tell you a story…

Last night (and, in fact, the night before) I sang in my first opera – Tosca.  Before you get grandiose ideas about my role, I was, in fact, singing chorus (with much amusing swapping of lines), and the chorus only actually has two pieces, so what I was really doing was getting to watch a really interesting opera performance for free, while basking in reflected glory from the excellence of the singers.  It’s a hard life…

It’s a really horrible opera, though.  I mean, it was extremely well sung and acted, but Puccini loves torturing his characters.  Literally.  And also his audience, a bit – letting you think that there might, actually, be a happy ending, and then going, ha!  Gotcha!  and killing everyone off after all.  (Mind you the whole “Oh it’s going to be a mock execution, just like we did with Palmieri.  Yes, yes, exactly like we did with Palmieri…”, with a meaningful look to the henchman, is a little suspicious.  You just know that Palmieri is not living out a life of ease right now…)

Alas, poor Palmieri is no longer in a condition to appreciate asparagus.
I know, it’s a tenuous connection, but I’m really very excited about this opera, and all I have is photos of vegetables…

My favourite thing about this performance, though, was the way it was set – rather than being in a huge theatre with gorgeous sets and costumes, they put it in a local church, and had only five soloists and twelve people in the chorus, so it was quite an intimate performance.  The first Act actually takes place in a church, and the whole thing felt very real, with people rushing up and down the central aisle and around the edges, looking for the Madonna, hiding behind screens and polishing the altar rail.  And in the last act, as Tosca and Mario sing their hopeful duet about the future, it started raining heavily outside, which to me added an extra level of immediacy to the performance.  Wonderful.

Of course, the slight downside to this was that I got home rather late last night, and with daylight saving starting this morning, the market felt very, very early.  So we got off to a late start.  And then, halfway there, the engine started smoking.  I’m not a driver, but even I know that this is not a good sign.  So we pulled over and waited for the helpful RACV guy, who was actually very fast in getting there and very good when he did arrive, but the whole thing made us even later – we had the choice of going straight to choir and missing the market (and breakfast), or doing a really quick market trip and being late to rehearsal before church.

There is absolutely no connection between the text and this photo of the lovely roasted carrots and stuffed mushrooms we had for dinner. I’m just gratuitously making you hungry…

I decided that I needed breakfast more than ten extra minutes of practice, and to the market we went.

And it was, of course, the sort of market I would have loved to linger over.  Rita was back, with her daughter but no husband – she says he’s doing well, but I am a bit worried for him.  We made a bee-line for her stall first of all, of course.  She had all the new spring vegetables, at last – broad beans, peas, baby garlic, tiny artichokes, broccolini, and all my favourite wild greens.  I think there is a lovely barley risotto in my future, full of new peas and beans and leeks, and wild greens…

Peas, broadbeans, wild garlic. I just know I will regret buying the broadbeans, because they are a pain to prepare, but they do taste wonderful…

She also had her cousin Rosa’s new cookbook, and there went half my market budget, because I loved her first cookbook, and this one had recipes for things like frittata with nettles and wild greens pie, and other handy things to do with the ingredients I buy from Rita and then look at doubtfully when I get home and just use as if they were spinach…

Wild greens adorning a recipe for wild greens in a pie… Do I know what the greens are? Well, one of them is caviocelli. But I fear I do not know which…

The book is signed by Rosa with the words “Mangia bene” (eat well), and is dedicated to her father, whose name was Vincent.  Clearly a relative.  I always suspected as much.  (I’m not entirely serious, but  seriously, Rosa’s recipes are so much like my Nonna’s, and half of my male cousins are called Vincenzo, Vince, Vin, or Vincent, after a common grandfather.  The other half are variations on Antonio.  Italian naming traditions are like that.  It’s certainly not impossible that we have relatives in Sicily, at any rate!) Edit: No, apparently Vincent is a family friend and from Northern Italy.  So probably not one of ours.  Oh well…

Kale and rainbow chard, with another of Rosa’s recipes.

We then dashed over to the pie man, who we haven’t managed to coincide with since about February, and invested in lamb and mint pies, beef pies, curried pumpkin pies, and beef pies with red wine.

A selection of pies.

The lady who does the vegetables that look ordinary but taste extraordinary had brought me a whole box of asparagus from her neighbour’s farm!  I was quite excited – I’ve been waiting for asparagus for weeks, and the asparagus man just doesn’t come to this market any more.  Apparently, whenever the market lady sees an asparagus now, she thinks of me.  I shall choose to be flattered by this…

Asparagus! How I love you!

In addition to my two kilos of lovely, lovely asparagus, we bought broccoli and baby spinach and lots tiny leeks, which became part of dinner tonight (I am very proud of dinner tonight, too).

More green things (broccoli, broccolini, spinach). The colour palette of spring: green, green, green and more green.

This left me with just enough time to stop at the colourful vegetable stall, and be seduced by rainbow chard and kale and multicoloured baby carrots (also found in tonight’s dinner).

Leeks, onions, and my favourite colourful carrots

And then I grabbed a chocolate croissant for breakfast, and we leapt back into the car and drove to choir… where I was only ten minutes late after all.

This is not the end of the story.  Because I had excellent plans after choir about going home and writing this blog post early and doing lots of singing practice to make up for the fact that I have been singing Tosca and nothing but Tosca since Tuesday, and then making beautiful things for dinner with my peas and beans (which, lets face it, are a weekend endeavour – all that shelling and blanching just takes too long for the average weeknight).  So I got on a train that was clearly marked Upfield… and the  next thing I knew, I looked out the window and we were passing South Yarra and going express to Caulfield…

It took me more than two hours to get home, and I did not shell peas and beans for dinner.  But we did have rather a lovely farmers’ market feast tonight, with roasted carrots with balsamic vinegar, roast asparagus with lemon, baked leeks with feta and mint, and stuffed mushrooms (leftover from our last market trip) with basil, pistachios, cheese and sun-dried tomatoes.

And we all lived happily ever after.  Though I never did get around to that singing practice.  (Do you think the neighbours will mind if I do it now?)


This time last year…

Recipe: Strawberry and Almond Cupcakes with Crystallised Rose Petals
Recipe: Balsamic Strawberry Parfait
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2 comments for “Farmers’ Market: Asparagus, Cookbooks, and Gratuitous Opera

  1. filkferengi
    October 7, 2012 at 11:49 pm

    My lovely spouse’s grandpa [for whom he’s named] came over from Sicily in the 1920s. Maybe we have relatives in common. Are any of yours named Turrisi?

    • October 8, 2012 at 2:00 pm

      No Turrisis in my family that I know of, I’m afraid. We’re mostly from the Basilicata region, though it’s hard to know how much people got around (there are a lot of rumours about banditti from Sicily or North Africa working their way into our family tree, for example).

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